Persian Affinities of the Licchavis - A Review
By: Dr. Samar Abbas, Aligarh, India
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Abstract: The historic Himalayan Licchavi or Nicchibi tribe disclosed to be a branch of the Nisibis, Nysaioi or Nishapuri tribe of Persia. Consequent Iranic origin of Mahavira, the Founder of Jainism. Claim of the Kings of Tibet and Nepal to Li-tsa-byi or Licchavi descent. Consequent Irano-Aryan origin of the ruling race of Tibet and Nepal. Exposure of the Dead in Tibet and Long-Headedness further proof of the Iranic origin of the Tibetan ruling caste.
In 1908, a leading Indian historical journal published a paper entitled "Persian Affinities of the Licchavis". The mundane title, however, masked the remarkable consequences of the work. For, a Persian origin of the Gangetic Licchavis automatically forces several far-reaching conclusions:
The Tibetan kings, as evidenced by numerous Tibetan historical works, were descended from the Li-tsa-byi or Licchavi tribe. If the Licchavis were Persian, the long-headed Tibetan ruling caste becomes an Iranic race.
The founder of Jainism, Mahavira, was likewise a Licchavi, and hence an Iranian. Consequently, Jainism is an Iranic religion. The intrinsic anti-Brahmin and anti-Sanskrit nature of Jainism, manifested through its denunciation of the Vedas and its patronage of the Ardhamagadhi language, can be logically understood as a consequence of the Iranic racial origin of Mahavira.
The historical Nepali Licchavi ruling dynasty was consequently also of Irano-Aryan origin.
The journal in question was published from 1872 to 1933 and then became defunct. It has since been long out of print. As the article is hence virtually out of reach for most Iranologists, I am reproducing extracts from this important paper for research purposes. The full academic citation of the article is as follows:
Vidyabhusana 1908: "Persian Affinities of the Licchavis" by Prof. Satis Chandra Vidyabhusana, The Indian Antiquary, Vol.XXXVII, March 1908, p.78-80; Swati Publishers, 34, Central Market, Ashok Vihar, Delhi-110052, reprint 1985.
The learned author of the article, Prof. Satis Chandra Vidyābhūṣaṇa, was a pioneering historian of Indian logic and earned the title of Mahamahopadhyaya as a mark of his erudition. The ideas set forth in his brilliant paper have withstood the test of time. A mountain of further evidence, such as the long-headedness of the Tibetan ruling caste, a feature so markedly displayed by the present Dalai Lama, as well as surviving traces of heliolatry and the haoma ritual, confirm the Iranic origin of the Licchavis. It is high time Iranians reclaimed Jainism and Later Tibetan culture as their own.
The Indian Antiquary Vol.XXXVII (March 1908) p.78-80
Persian Affinities of the Licchavis
By: Prof. Satis Chandra Vidyabhusana, MA, MRAS
In connection with Mr. Vincent A. Smith's very interesting article, `Tibetan Affinities of the Licchavis,' published ante, Vol.XXXII, p.233-236, I beg to offer a few observations for consideration. In the article referred to an attempt has been made to establish the theory that the Licchavis were a Tibetan tribe, which settled in the plains during pre-historic times. While admitting the kinship of the Licchavis with the early Tibetan Kings, I beg to differ from Mr. V.A.Smith in his main theory as to the origin of the Licchavis. In my humble opinion the Licchavis were a Persian tribe, whose original home was Nisibis, which they left for India and Tibet in the 6th century BC and 4th century BC, respectively.
According to Ptolemy,1 Arrian,2, Strabo,3 and other classical writers, Nisibis was a most notable town in Aria to the South-East of the Caspian Sea. Wilson 4 identifies it with the modern town of Nissa (off Herat) on the north of the Elburz Mountains between Asterabad and Meshed. Vines5 grew here abundantly and it is traditionally known to have been the birthplace of the wine-god Dionysos. M. de St. Martin6 observes that Nisibis must have been of Median or Persian foundation, for its name is purely Iranian and figures in the cosmogenic geography of the Zend Avesta, and this observation tallies well with the account of Arrian, who, in his Indika7 distinctly says that the Nysaioi (the inhabitants of Nysa or Nisibis) were not an Indian8 race.
1. McCrindle's Ancient India as Described by Ptolemy, pp.308 and 328.
2. McCrindle's Ancient India Described by Megasthenes and Arrian, p.179.
3. McCrindle's Ancient India as Described in Classical Literature, p.93.
4, 5, 6, 7. McCrindle's Megasthenes and Arrian, pp.179-180.
8. It is not definitely known whether this Nisibis is in any way connected with the famous city of that name in Mesopotamia (on the borders of Armenia) which rose to importance during the Assyrian period, continued under the Seleucidae and became the residence of the Kings of Armenia from 149 BC to 14 AD, being afterwards conquered by the Romans. It is, however, probable that while Cyrus, the King of Persia (559 BC-530 BC), was extending his sway up to Chorasmia (modern Khiva) and Sogdiana (modern Samarkand and Bokhara), a colony from Nisibis in Mesopotamia was planted in the North of Aria (off Herat) which, too, thenceforth bore the name of Nisibis (vide. Encyclopaedia Britannica 9th ed. Vol.XVII and XVIII, articles Nisibis and Persia).
In fact, Nisibis was a part of Persia. It appears to me very probable that while about 515 BC Darius,9 the King of Persia, sent an expedition to India, or rather caused the Indus to be explored from the land of the Pakhtu (Afghans) to its mouth, some of his Persian subjects in Nisibis (off Herat) immigrated to India, and having found the Panjab over populated by the orthodox Brahmans, came down as far as Magadha (Behar) which was at that time largely inhabited by Vrātyas10 or outcaste people.
The earliest reference to the people of Nisibis in Indian writings occurs in the famous Brahmanic Sanskrit work, the Manusamhitā (chapter X, verse 12) in which they have been designated as Nicchibi, which is, no doubt, an Indian form of the Persian word Nisibis. Manu describes the Nicchibis as Vrātya-kṣatriyas, or an outcaste royal race, and names them along with Khasa, Karaṇa and others. In the Bhaviṣya Purāṇa, Chapter 139, verses 33-65, Nikṣubhā is described as a daughter of the sage Rijiśvā of the Mihira Gotra or Solar clan, and under the name of Hāvanī as married to Sūrya, the Sun-god. I imagine that Nikṣubhā represents the name of a Persian girl of Nisibis, who worshipped the sun-god like other members of her race.
In the Indian Pali works they have been called Licchavi or Licchivi, which is only a softened form of Nicchibi or Nisibis, and have been mentioned as living in a large number in Vaisāli (in Magadha). That in the 5th century BC the Licchavis were not yet fully established in India, is evident from the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, Chapter I, in which Ajātaśatru, the King of Magadha, is found to have been making plans for their expulsion from his kingdom. But the excellent horse-carriages and magnificent variegated dresses of the Licchavi youths and courtezan, Ambapāli, described in Chapter II of the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, lead us to suppose that they must have descended from a civilized race. By the first half of the 4th century AD the Licchavis became very powerful in India and Nepal. In the Allahabad Pillar Inscription of Samudra Gupta (vide Fleet's Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol.III, p.16) we find that a Licchavi princess named Kumāra Devī was married to Chandra Gupta I about 319 AD. "That the Licchavis were then at least of equal rank and power with the early Guptas is shown by the pride in this alliance manifested by the latter." Jayadeva I, the first historical member of the Licchavi tribe, reigned in Nepal AD 330-355 (vide Fleet, p.135). In the Nepalese records, such as the Vaṁśāvalī, the Licchavis have been allotted to the Sūrya Vaṁśa or Solar race. As late as about 700 AD there reigned in the east in Vārendra (North-eastern Bengal) a king named Siṁha, who sprang from the Licchavi race (vide Lama Tārānātha's Geschichte des Buddhismus von Shiefner, p.146).
According to Pag-sam-jon-zang, Gyal-rab-sal-wahi-me-long11 and other Tibetan books, the earliest Kings of Tibet from Nya-thi-tsau-po downwards belonged to the Li-tsa-byi race. There is, no doubt, that Li-tsa-byi is only a modified form of Licchavi. The first King of Tibet was Nya-thi-tsan-po, who was a wanderer from a foreign country. The exact date of his arrival in Tibet is unknown, but from Deb-ther-sṅon-po and other Tibetan records it appears that he lived between the 4th and 1st centuries BC. It is probable that during the occupation of Sogdiana 12 and the neighbouring places by Alexander the Great, the Bactrian Greek Kings and subsequently the Scythians (the Yue-chi) about 150 BC, some Persian people from Nisibis (off Herat) migrated to Tibet into the Himalayan regions, where they established a monarchial system of Government on the model of the Government in Persia.
9. Encycl.Brit., 9th edition, Volume XVIII, p.569.
10. Vide Lāṭyāyana Srauta Sūtra, 8/6. Compare also Rajaram Ramkrishna Bhagavat's article named "A Chapter from the Tāṇḍya-Brāhmaṇa" ... J. of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. XIX, of 1895-97.
11. Compare Alexander Csoma de Koros' Tibetan Grammar, p.194. As books in Tibet were written long after the intercourse of that country with India had been opened, the Litsabyi Kings of Tibet are often mentioned as having originally come from Vaisāli in India. As a matter of fact the Licchavis of Vaisāli and Tibet are collateral branches of a Persian race in Nisibis (off Herat).
12. Encycl. Brit., 9th ed., Vol.XXII, p.246.
The Bam-yik variety of the Tibetan alphabet, which is in common use in Tibet, derived, I suppose, its name from the city of Bamyian (off Nisibis), which was visited by Hiuen-thsiang in 630 AD, and is now subject to the Afghans.
The custom of exposing the dead to be devoured by wild animals, as it prevailed in Vaisāli and is still found in Tibet, was, I believe, introduced into those countries from Persia by the Licchavi immigrants. It is hardly necessary to add that the practice of exposure of the dead is widely followed in Persia and its dependancies, including Nisibis.
The Bon 13 religion, which preceded Buddhism in Tibet, is said to have originated from Tajik (Persia). According to Dub-thah-sel-kyi-me-long, twenty generations of Tibetan Kings from Nya-thi-tsan-po down to Thi-je-tsan-po followed no other religion than the Bon, which prevailed in Tibet up to 780 AD, when it was persecuted by King Thi-srong-de-tsan. The various black arts- such as witchcraft, exorcism, magic, performance of miracles, sacrifice of animals, etc. in which the Bon-po priests were skilled - must have been imported from Nisibis (Persia) by the Magi priests, who accompanied the Licchavis into Tibet. Sen-rab, who was one of the most prominent Bon-teachers, had among his spiritual descendants a Persian sage, named Mu-tso-tra-he-si.
That there was intercourse between Persia and Tibet in the ancient days, is evident from Kālidāsa's (Sanskrit) Raghuvaṁsa, Canto IV (verses 60-81) in which the foreign conquests of Raghu are described. Raghu after subduing the Pārasīka (Persians), Huna (Huns) and Kamboja (the inhabitants of the Hindukush mountains, which separate the Gilgit Valley from Balkh), ascended the Himalayas, where he fought hard against the mountain tribes called U-tsa-va-saṁ-ketān,14 and afterwards crossing the Lauhitya (Brahmaputra river), came down to Prāgjyotiṣa (Assam). This conquest of Raghu is, perhaps, a mere fiction, but it shows that in the days of Kalidasa, about 500 AD, the people of India were aware of a route existing between Persia and India on the one hand and Persia and Tibet on the other.
13. Vide Rai Sarat Chandra Das's article on "The Bon Religion" in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Part I, 1881.
14. Utsavasangketān, according to the Mahābhārata (Sabhāparva, Chapter 26 and Bhiṣmaparva, Chapter 9) was the collective name of seven tribes that inhabited the Himalayas. It is a compound word, which may be analysed as follows: - u + t + sa + ba + sang + ketān = u + da-yul + sa-yul + ba-thang + tsang + khotan. In this compound we discern several well known Tibetan names, such as U - Central Tibet, Tsang - Western Tibet, Ba - Bathang, etc. Sa-yul, Da-yul and Khotan were also provinces of Tibet.